Richard A. Sokerka
Hardly a day goes by without hearing the horrific news reports about Christians being persecuted for their faith in some part of the world.
Pope Francis, concerned about the growing number of Christians giving their lives for the faith, called those murdered modern “Stephens.” St. Stephen was the first of the apostles to be killed for proclaiming Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior. He was stoned to death and is regarded as the Church’s first martyr for the faith.
“God’s Word is always rejected by some. God’s Word is inconvenient when you have a stone heart, when you have a pagan heart,” the pope said. “In these days, how many Stephens there are in the world!” He said that the “Church today is a Church of martyrs: They suffer; they give their lives, and we receive the blessing of God for their witness.”
Giving recent examples of martyrdom for the faith, the pope said, “Let us think of our brothers whose throats were slit on the beach in Libya; let’s think of the young boy who was burnt alive because he was a Christian,” referring to Nouman Masih, a 14-year-old Pakistani, who died April 15 after being set on fire by two men. After inquiring about his religion and finding him to be a Christian, the men doused him in kerosene and set him on fire.
But for all those whose martyrdom is brought to our attention, the pope pointed out that there are also many “hidden martyrs,” who are the faithful men and women who listen to the voice of God and look for new ways to help their brothers and sisters love the Lord. These people are often viewed with suspicion, vilified and persecuted by the modern ‘Sanhedrin’ who think they possess the truth.”
“It makes no difference whether the victims are Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox or Protestant. …Their blood is one and the same in their confession of Christ!” the pope said in asking us all to not only to condemn these killings but to also to pray for those whose faith in Jesus Christ is so strong that they, like Stephen, would die for it.